FISH BLADDER ISLAND, Vt. -- If only Kathy O'Brien hadn't been booted off that tropical island a dozen years ago, she'd have a million bucks. If O'Brien had $1 million, she could make a hefty down payment - more than half the asking price - on an island in northern climes.
"I sort of attract the island scene," she said.
O'Brien, near-winner of "Survivor: Marquesas" - season No. 4 of the semi-reality TV show, "Survivor" - is the Realtor trying to sell three islands in Lake Champlain, off the shores of Grand Isle County.
The skills necessary to stay alive in the TV showdown are the ones she uses in the real estate game, O'Brien said.
"You had to figure out how people accepted information and used information," O'Brien said. "That's what the show is all about: personal relationships. As well as a little tenacity not to starve to death."
The information people might need for Vermont island life is this: Taxes on two of the properties are more than $20,000 a year. Generators are in place on the two further afloat islands to power-up the amenities. You can play tennis or jet-ski without leaving home. No one will come knocking to borrow sugar.
Starving to death is unlikely on the Champlain Islands, even with zero tenacity. You won't have to dig for taro root or scrounge for shellfish, as O'Brien did for 50 days in 2001.
"I worked my fanny off," she said.
Mirek Fajt, owner of Fish Bladder Island, said his caretaker will stock up on food before the family arrives at the island, at his request. The owners of Harbor Island drive to South Burlington weekly to shop at Healthy Living. The other day for brunch they ate frittata made with organic eggs and hormone-free bacon.
"Another day in paradise," owner Colin Nichol said.
Nichol bought Harbor Island 14 years ago and has done considerable work with his partner, Michael Blanchard, to create their kind of paradise. (A highly transferable version, it would seem.)
They arrived 2 1/2 weeks ago from their home in Sarasota, Fla., and anticipate several wonderful months on their small island with their small dogs, Lady and the Tramp.
"We'll be here until we are spirited away," Nichol said. "Sometime in the late fall."
The islands are offered through Lion and Davis, the high-end division of Lang, McLaughry. Staige Davis, CEO of the company, has worked in Vermont real estate for 33 years. This is the first time he's seen three islands for simultaneous sale, Davis said.
The asking prices on the properties range from $1.85 million (Fish Bladder Island, 10 acres) to $1.24 million (Harbor Island, 2 1/2 acres).
"There's a lot of million-dollar properties on the market right now," Davis said. Certain financial factors are at play, he said. "Otherwise I think it's just serendipity."
O'Brien, too, said she's never before seen three islands on the market at the same time.
"It's really unusual," she said. "It's weird. It's like the moon and the stars aligned. It's not like these guys are looking for cash. Their lifestyles have changed."
Heading into a stiff north wind, Fish Bladder Island is a 20-minute choppy motorboat ride from Apple Island Marina in South Hero. The commute is cut almost in half on the return trip, with a tail wind and a drive-by of Cedar Island, also on the market.
A tippy walk on the Fish Bladder dock leads to the boathouse, converted not long ago into an open and light high-ceilinged home. Beyond the house is an expanse of manicured lawn and a lovely arboretum whose plantings include maple, birch, willow and mulberry trees.
"It's beautiful, it's unmatched," Fajt said by telephone. "I've never seen anything like it."
The sweep of the land and the thick low grass - laced with thyme run wild from a longago garden - give Fishbladder the feel of a golf fairway with water hazards all round.
"I do hit a lot of golf balls there," Fajt said.
He is a real estate lawyer and investor who divides his time between homes in Greenwich, Conn., and Key Largo, Fla. After four years owning the island, Fajt is selling Fishbladder because he and his family don't get to Vermont as often as they'd like, he said.
His two children are in their early 20s and family plans and commitments don't allow for long stretches of summer in Vermont. Owning the island is "difficult to justify," Fatj said.
Island life for the family includes recreational activities on the water and day trips to the mainland for hiking and golf. They sometimes ride the property in golf carts. The family enjoys badminton and volleyball on the lawn, and likes to barbecue in the evening. They keep two boats at the ready, just in case, Fajt said.
"You have to respect the water," he said.
Fajt said last week he would soon be at Fish Bladder for a week or two, and hopes to spend every other weekend on his Vermont island. As a real estate professional, he recognizes that islands are not "mainstream property."
"For a family or a couple of families who like an adventure and want to be on their own, you won't find something better than this," he said. "I'm in love with the island. It's going to be a very sad day when we do sell it."
The sale comes with half a second island, upper Fish Bladder, that is connected by a spit of land - often underwater - to the larger island. Audubon Vermont owns the other half of this smaller Fishbladder, which is not for sale.
Jim Shallow, conservation/policy director of Audubon Vermont, said (little) Fish Bladder was part of the purchase when Audubon acquired three other islands. The organization bought the islands to protect and enhance the biodiversity of life on the lake, with a particular interest in restoring the population of the common tern, he said.
"They are bird sanctuaries," Shallow said. "We try to let the birds go first."
Island dwellers use terms similar to sanctuary to describe owning your own island. It offers privacy, quiet, relaxation and beauty in a unique and protected setting.
"When you get off the boat and you're on the island, you're in your own little world," Fajt said.
Nichol and Blanchard don't need a boat to get to Harbor Island in Grand Isle. When Nichol bought the property he built a gravel causeway that connects to the mainland; he buried the power lines beneath the causeway.
Still, the property feels like its own special place, a cultivated piece of land with water shimmering at each turn. From the garden on a clear day, you can see from Canada to Killington.
The couple has planted about 200 cedar trees and 170 rose bushes. Inanimate objects, too, are carefully placed on Harbor Island: an outdoor shower by the hot tub; a hammock that hangs at water's edge; a bat house to help with insect control; a boat launch and wooden furniture by the beach.
"When we bought the property I walked onto it and I felt this incredible energy," said Blanchard, a Barre native. "The island has a lot of quartz in it. I believe the quartz is creating a really good energy."
Inside, the couple has renovated the house with features including wide-board pine floors salvaged from a general store in Maine. On this surface, Blanchard likes to dance in his high heels, he said.
The couple's Florida house is for sale, too. They will pull from the market the home that doesn't sell and live there. Nichol, whose computer work allows him to live and work anywhere, has a preference.
"You can always buy another house in Florida," he said. "But there's only one island in Vermont."