Aras Baskouskas, the grandson of soap opera star McDonald Carrey, won Survivor's Panama edition, which aired in 2006. He was 24 then — he's now 31, lives with his girlfriend, model Christy Peterson, and has a career as a singer-songwriter.
But there have been a lot of adventures along the way. Having only practiced yoga for four months, he ventured to South Africa and opened his own studio, contracting with a local rubber factory to provide yoga mats. After paying off his father's mortgage, he used part of his million dollar Survivor winnings to start his own business — a Los Angeles-based Russian winter hat company called Tundra Gear.
In his spare time he also taught himself how to make artistic wooden furniture, some of which is on display in the home he shares with Peterson.
“I am not really good living with other people's parameters,” says Aras Baskouskas says now, sitting outside One Life Natural Foods in Santa Monica.
His Survivor story began when he heard the show was casting from a friend. In the end, he was portrayed as a young, somewhat entitled, pretentious guy. He wasn't too thrilled about that, of course, but notes that the show actually forces you to survive, and it is a struggle. “It was the most gnarly 39 days I have ever had in my life. I lost 35 lbs, you can't sleep, you don't eat, you don't get any water,” he says. “What is worse is you can't trust anybody.” He focused instead on making mutual beneficial alliances and that is, in the end, what helped him win.
Winning Survivor allowed Baskouskas to take the time to pursue his passions and discover new ones. While listening to Bob Dylan in the car one day he realized he wanted to learn to play music.
It wasn't the first time he'd felt this way. At age 7 he wanted to be just like Lou Diamond Phillips in La Bamba. When he received an electric guitar and an amp as a gift from his aunt he played it all day — much to the dismay of his mother, who promptly made him exchange it for an acoustic. “I told my mother that wasn't rock n roll and there was no way I would play an acoustic guitar,” he remembers.
This time, however, he bought an acoustic guitar along with a package of lessons, and made a six-month commitment to stick with it. “I think that was the key — giving myself permission to be really bad,” he says. “After about a month it started sounding like music.” He now performs under the moniker “Odd Us,” which serves partly as a phonetic guide to how his first name is pronounced in Lithuanian.
In 2011 he released his first album The Tree and the River. He packaged it along with an animated book (a photo is below) telling the story of the title song. It's about a tree that drowns in its unlikely attempt at a love affair with a river.
“When I made the book I wanted people to stop. I wanted people to not really know what to think of it,” he says. “I don't want to be bound by what other people have done or how other people think you should release music. I just want it to be an experience.”
With this concept in mind he has also spent the past year creating a music video for his single The Sword in the Stone, which was recently released. “I like to consider myself more an artist than a musician,” he says. “I love creating stories.”
Through it all Baskauskas says he really just wants to create things that he loves, and hopes they will cause people to pause and be in the present.
“I want to keep making moments,” he says. “Whether that is music or stupid videos or music videos or tables — the moments are what really matter.”
Odd Us performs at Witzend in Venice tonight at 10pm