When Dan and Steph Mulheron were announced winners of My Kitchen Rules in 2013, their life completely changed.
With $250,000 in hand, the married couple opened their own business and welcomed their first child, Emmy, into the world via IVF.
It was the best of times – until it almost fell apart.
As new parents and business owners, time quickly became a diminishing asset.
The pressure to keep up with the demands at their restaurant and take care of their growing daughter was all-consuming.
"Our lives are so different, but it hasn't always been rosy and cheery," Steph, 37, reveals to TV WEEK.
"We've had financial struggles trying to run a small business and faced our own life challenges at home – both of us were in a dark place for a while."
Dan, 38, adds that in their effort to get through, they momentarily forgot about themselves, and their relationship.
"We were like strangers in the dark," he explains of their growing distance.
"If I was at home, Steph would be at work, and vice versa. Then, we'd be Mum and Dad to Emmy – but not us, together.
"In the midst of the business, Dan and Steph suffered silently.
Or, perhaps, were too frantic to combat the problem.
Work, parenting and chores took precedence over their marriage.
As they reflect on the hardships, Steph pinpoints what pulled them out of the fog.
"We got asked to return to MKR, which was such a privilege," Steph recalls.
"It then forced us to find our own routine away from home, reconnect and learn more about each other."
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While leaving Emmy behind was a difficult choice, Dan adds that the three-month filming process allowed them to "get our relationship back to where we wanted it to be."
"We'd go for big walks every morning [before filming began] and discuss the competition; that was the game-changer," he says.
"I wouldn't say it saved our marriage…. well, actually, it kind of did!"
The pair now hope to give four-year-old Emmy a sibling, "if it's meant to be".
While Dan and Steph are no strangers to the pressure cooker of an Instant Restaurant, the revamped season of MKR: The Rivals is sure to be the toughest one yet.
However this time around, judge Manu Feildel is in their corner as the Faves mentor.
Colin Fassnidge will mentor the Fans group.
"We knew going into it that we're good cooks, but having Manu on hand was amazing," Dan says.
"We've felt pressure this season, but we promised each other we'd enjoy it. And it's been one of the best things we've ever done."
Dan shares his incredible weight-loss journey
In 2018, Dan made a huge decision to undergo weight-loss surgery.
What he didn't realise at the time, however, was how close he had come to losing his life.
"I lost 85 kilos," Dan says.
"I went from 165kg to 79kg. My doctor told me later I was a strong candidate for a heart attack and had given me five to 10 years to live. It was a big wake-up call."
Today, Dan has a new lease on life.
"I'm very proud of it [the weight loss] and I don't shy away from the journey," he says.
"People think it's [obesity surgery] the easiest way out, but it's not – it's the hardest thing I've had to do.
"I now get up every morning and go for a big walk. I see the sunrise and I feel so much better about myself."
MKR: The Rivals airs Monday to Wednesday, and Sunday, 7.30pm on Channel Seven
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Now To LoveJul 26, 2021