Celebrity News

MKR NZ's Jay and Sarah reveal how fame almost destroyed their relationship

As they introduce their new addition, the high school
sweethearts reveal how their family was nearly torn apart

By Hayley Barnett
When My Kitchen Rules NZ fan favourites Jay Wanakore and Sarah Wanakore-Chase welcomed their fifth child, gorgeous little girl Avaani, five months ago, they say their wha-nau finally felt complete.
But while it may seem like a fairytale happy ending for the Kiwi reality stars, the couple reveal it hasn't been all smooth sailing since they made their TV debut in 2015.
"After MKR, things became really toxic between us," Jay, 31, admits to Woman's Day. "We got so bad that we were done. Sarah wanted to separate and tried to kick me out a few times."
Their kids (from left) Aizaya, Avaani, Arkiya and Aiyana mean everything to the couple.
The Auckland pair spent years successfully building their brand after the show aired, with their very own cookbook, further TV appearances and a strong social media game, but it was far from fun, with self-confessed workaholic Jay "hustling hard" to carve out a carefully curated niche as a foodie family on a mission to lead healthier lives.
"I was trying to build the dream that I thought we both wanted, but I didn't realise I was compromising our time together," confesses Jay, who is of Waikato and Ngāti Maniapoto descent. "That created a lot of resentment between us.
We would go out into the public and put on happy faces, but behind it all was a lot of stress and unhappiness."
Marrying in 2018, the pair now give relationship advice to troubled couples.
In the background, while Jay was moulding their family into a brand, Sarah was struggling to play along. "I didn't want to be a part of it," the 31-year-old tells. "The image was the priority in his eyes, but I don't like faking who I am and I felt like I was expected to be someone else. Jay had to learn a hard lesson. What he thought was the priority wasn't all that important in the end."
Together for 15 years, the high school sweethearts had three gorgeous children – Aiyana, now 13, Aizaya, 10, and seven-year-old Arkiya – at the time, with Sarah doing her best to hold down the fort and make sure everyone was happy.
"I wanted to keep my family grounded and be ourselves because that was really important to me," shares Sarah, who has Ngāti Tuwharetoa and Te Tai Rawhiti heritage. "I was at rock bottom – at the point where I questioned whether I wanted to be here. It was just toxic, so I told him I didn't want that life."
It was almost the end for the couple, but when Sarah sought help in the form of a personal development programme, it completely changed their lives.
"I came back from the course having decided that I wanted to save this relationship," she recalls. "Jay was shocked and surprised because I'd just left three days ago, telling him I hated him and didn't want
to be with him any more."
Since then, it's been onwards and upwards for the pair, with Sarah explaining, "I'm still growing and improving myself. I didn't realise I was bringing a lot of that negativity to the relationship. I owned my part and took responsibility for a lot of it. But it took Jay a while to join me in that process. It took him ages. It was hard."
"I was like, 'You're the problem – not me!'" grins Jay, adding that he was finally inspired to work on himself when he noticed the changes in his wife. "Even the way she was raising the kids, speaking to them and teaching them all these new life tools was impressive. I thought, 'Man, maybe I need to start learning some things.'"
Jay accompanied Sarah to another course and began to learn more about how he dealt with their challenges. "It was shocking," he admits. "I realised I needed to learn how to communicate better and resolve conflict."
After turning their relationship around, baby Avaani was their sweet surprise.
With their relationship steadily improving, five years after getting engaged, in August 2018, Jay and Sarah decided the time was finally right to tie the knot, with the pair getting hitched in rural Auckland in front of 40 of their closest friends and family.
"Most people would allow at least 12 months to plan a wedding, but not us," smiles Jay. "We decided to do it in one month – crazy, we know, but that's us!"
Meanwhile, people who had noticed how they'd turned their relationship around were getting in touch with Jay and Sarah to share their romantic struggles.
"That's when we decided we wanted to teach other people these tools to help them improve their lives too," says Jay.
So, a year ago, he and Sarah started their own personal development course, Elevate Life, which helps troubled lovers like themselves. "If people only knew what we were like behind closed doors back then, they wouldn't feel so alone," insists Sarah, adding that the pandemic has seen couples from all around the world reach out for assistance.
A living doll! The kids fight over who gets to hold the little cutie.
Jay continues, "We recently launched our third course, and we've got people from Australia, France and Hawaii, which is cool. Being online in lockdown has really opened up a lot of opportunities for us to help, which is amazing."
But the most incredible thing "is the fact we're still together, still married, we've brought another child into this world and we're still fine", enthuses Sarah, who gave birth to their "surprise baby" Avaani in August.
"She's already sleeping eight hours a night," smiles Jay, adding that they're counting their blessings they had Auckland's long lockdown to bond as a family. "We call our kids the A-Team and they just love their little sister. They're always racing to see who can get her out of bed when she wakes up and who's burping her.
"They fight over her too, though. We're always hearing, 'I was going to hold her!' and, 'I'm going to change her!' But it's good that they want to do all of that and be a part of her life."
With five children and a chaotic household, Jay and Sarah admit they still face daily challenges, but now they've realised they need to prioritise their relationship and have the right tools to communicate, they're confident their love will last the distance.

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