TV

The extreme lengths Ibby and Romel went to in their quest for My Kitchen Rules glory

How much would you spend to try and win $250,000?

Don't worry, this story doesn't contain spoilers.
Sydney socialites Ibby Moubadder and Romel Kouyan have made no secret of their blind ambition when it comes to taking out the My Kitchen Rules title - and the $250,000 AUD prize money that comes with it.
Their sheer determination and at times ruthless nature - along with, of course, their incredible cooking skills - have seen them sail into the quarter-finals after coming out at the top of the leaderboard in the Ultimate Instant Restaurant round. But as Romel has revealed, it came at a cost. Tens of thousands of dollars in fact.
When it came to their first Instant Restaurant, Romel told the group that they'd hired a stylist to set up the dining room. They also employed a graphic designer and spent thousands on flowers. But their spending went a lot further than that - to the tune of $30,000 AUD.
Where was the rest of that money spent? Mainly on a kitchen hand, they tell Now to Love. And it wasn't about cheating, they insist. Rather it was about playing smart.
Ibby and Romel's first Instant Restaurant was a runaway success. Image: Supplied
"We didn't have a choice really," Ibby reveals. "We have our own busy lives, I manage three businesses, Romel manages two. Even though we were doing the competition, we still had a s--- load of work to do to try and get it all done.
"Trying to do everything that we do and trying to wash up for hours in the day, we just didn't have the time. And the only way we could've made it... is by buying some time which is having somebody wash up after us.
"If you actually think about how long washing up takes when you cook, it's half the time and if you can avoid that process then it's more time for Romel and me to either rest or to focus on our own businesses."
Romel insists it was about working smarter, not harder. "There's various whispers going around that we had hired this and hired that and that... but it wasn't the case at all, we just had to play smart and that's why we did what we did."
"Ibby and I were working two steps ahead of everybody else," he explains. "The kitchen hand was preparing everything for us and we'd put all the dishes together. That saved us quite a lot of time."
Romel says because he and Ibby both run businesses (Romel runs a modelling and talent agency and Ibby has two cafes and a restaurant), they didn't want to take time away from them unless they believed they stood a "really, really good" chance of winning.
Fellow contestant Victor, who caused controversy of his own when it was revealed he was in a relationship with Piper, saw the fruits of Ibby and Romel's paid-for labour first hand.
"Ibby was very clear about the amount of money he and Romel put into the show," Victor told TV WEEK.
"I remember going to Ibby's apartment and he'd have a kitchen hand there doing all his dishes for him, trialling recipes and doing this and that... He had an advantage, but it was one he paid for."
Some of their fellow contestants have accused the pair of cheating, but Romel is adamant that wasn't the case. "At no point were we breaking any rules. Production and the network wouldn't have allowed it," he told News.com.au.
Watch: The explosive moment Victor walks off set. Article continues below.
This isn't the first time Ibby and Romel have caused controversy. They got off on the wrong foot with the rest of their group in the early stages of the competition by hiding the fact that Ibby was a restaurateur, originally saying he was a nurse.
This opened them up to all sorts of criticism from the group, who weren't comfortable with the fact that they'd lied. But Ibby and Romel insisted they didn't want to reveal the truth because it would put a target on their backs.
Then came the strategic scoring scandal, when Anne and Jennifer from Group 2 were eliminated because Ibby and Romel gave them low scores to keep Group 1 in the competition. But the pair came clean to their fellow contestants and eventually moved past it.
"There were definitely some upset people around the table," Romel, 42, admitted to TV WEEK. "We felt that if we didn't own what we'd done, there would be resentment."
Romel said they regretted their actions at the time, but don't anymore after watching the show play out on TV. In fact, he says he thinks other teams quietly adopted similar scoring tactics.
"[But] nobody else owned up to it," he adds. "Ibby and I did. We're two honest guys."
The My Kitchen Rules quarter finals are airing this week on TVNZ 2.