"This is probably my first interview ever... ok, well, after two years," says Alyssa Valdez as she sits down in the team hotel in Halong, Vietnam.
The world has changed over those two years but the down-to-earth Filipina volleyball superstar is as engaging as ever.
Her millions of fans call her 'phenom' and follow her every move - and there have been lots of moves of late:
From winning the national league with her club team Creamline Cool Smashers to making the final two of the Pinoy Big Brother reality show to flying to Brazil with the Filipina volleyball team to prepare for the 2022 SEA Games in Vietnam.
Add to that her sponsor commitments and relationship with Filipino basketball standout Kiefer Ravena - who Valdez says she's seen for "like, one day" in the last six or seven months.
How she does it?
Staying focussed on the things that really matter: Family, friends, the sport she loves.
"I'm just doing what I love and and just being me" - Alyssa Valdez
The 28-year-old who has amassed a fiercely loyal social media following that numbers in the millions, talks family, volleyball, her relationship with Kiefer Ravena, social media stardom and much more in her exclusive interview with Olympics.com.
Leaving the Pinoy Big Brother final behind to play for the national team
When Valdez joined the 'Pinoy Big Brother: Kumunity Season 10', one of 46 housemates on the season's show, little did she know that she'd go all the way to the final, with just her and singer Anji Salvacion left standing.
"Okay, I was so shocked," she says, "I just went there actually for the experience and didn't know I was going to be part of the top two and have to come back!"
But the final clashed with the 2022 SEA Games in Hanoi, and there was only one choice for the country's star outside hitter.
"Honestly, it wasn't that hard a decision, the PBB were very very kind to allow me to come here and represent our country... they know that I'm an athlete first before coming in the house and they were very supportive of the decision so I'm very thankful for everyone."
Alyssa Valdez: "Volleyball is my first love"
So with her giant online following (Over two million on Twitter, nearly two million on Instagram, a million and a half on Facebook, hundreds of millions of views between Tiktok and YouTube...), how did her fans react?
"I think the fans were somewhat sad, not really upset, because they know that I'm an athlete. I really love volleyball and I want to represent the country.
"More sad, and probably they also want to see more of me inside the house but at the end of the day I really want to represent my country and this is my first love, volleyball."
Representing the Philippines means a lot to her.
"It brings pride and honour to represent the country, every athlete's dream is to represent their own country, that's why you train hard, you represent your school or your club and after that you want to to go on a bigger stage.
"It's such a big opportunity and we always learn... we grow as an athlete and we grow as an individual. That's why I really love playing for my country."
Alyssa Valdez' SEA Games goal: "Bring something home!"
So what's the goal for Alyssa in Hanoi?
"I've been a part of the women's volleyball team and representing the national team for SEA Games for... I think it's my fourth time, I started 2015 and now it's my fourth time here in Hanoi.
"The goal every time is to play well and definitely bring honour to our country and hopefully this time we work hard and bring something home. May it be what colour it may."
The Philippines came so close last time around at their Manila 2019 home SEA Games, but lost out to Indonesia in the bronze medal match.
"The experience last time was quite heartbreaking," Valdez continues.
"And I think those are the moments that will motivate you to become better as an athlete and to work harder for the next SEA Games.
"So we're just really praying that all the hard work and the chemistry of the team is there already, so that we're prepared for the games."
The Filipinas had a perfect opening at the 2022 SEA Games in Vietnam when they beat Malaysia in straight sets in Hanoi: 25-14, 25-20, 24-15.
Valdez was on form and inspiring alongside teammates Alyja Daphne Santiago, Jaja Santiago, and Cess Molina.
Eat, sleep, train, repeat (With some singing and dancing for fun!)
Before the opening game the Philippines number two was positive, speaking from the team hotel that has a stunning view of Halong Bay, three hours from Hanoi, with its turquoise waters and thousands of soaring blue-hued limestone islands crowned with lush rainforest.
"We're so happy to be here, we're quite surprised with the view, with everything presented to us here in Vietnam. And I think the morale of the team is very high so we're just very excited."
So is the team having fun?
"A lot of fun. I mean, every time I represent the country, one thing I really love about it is that we see other players from different countries, meeting great people all in one place... that's what I love about sports."
With the Thai team on an incredible SEA Games winning streak that reaches back to 1995, she says players like Pleumjit Thinkaow, Nootsara Tomkom, and Onuma Sittirak are friends, rivals, and inspirations.
The SEA Games can sometimes feel like a family reunion she says.
Mylene Paat: Team songwriter
As for breaking up the routine, the Philippine team have that down too:
"The girls compose songs," Alyssa continues, "when we were in Brazil, all we did was train, eat, sleep, repeat, so to make it lighter, we try to make these songs, everyone will sing, everyone will dance, so it's just so funny."
Mylene Paat is the team's chief song composer and the chemistry in the team is undeniable.
"One thing that makes me laugh every time would be when we look at each other. I don't know why, we always laugh at each other, whether we talk or we just look at each other's eyes, we have that connection."
Alyssa Valdez: "Meditation really helps me"
There's a time for quiet too, and Valdez prepares for her games her own way.
"One thing I do before the game is that I meditate, something I learned from our previous coaches, also from my coach from college way back, he taught us to meditate.
"And I think it's very helpful to calm yourself, to compose yourself, especially when it's crunch time or when the situation is not in your favour.
"So I think meditation really helps me."
Alyssa Valdez' volleyball "obsession"
So what is it that she loves about volleyball?
"I really don't know. People ask me, what do I love about volleyball? Probably... It's an obsession. I think when you ask someone not just like me, other players here representing their own country, playing for different sports, I think it's just not about loving the sport.
"It's being obsessed with the sport. That's why we're staying and keeping in shape to play to the best of our capability and represent our country well."
And as a spiker, is rising up above the net and smashing a point down the most satisfying thing in the game for her?
"When I was when younger, definitely, that was one of the most satisfying moments for me.
"But when you grow older in sports, I think I really appreciate other things like when you can dig the ball from a really great spike, when you can have a good service ace.
"It's so different when you get to learn more about the sport, the beauty of volleyball. And I think it's just so nice when you see how harmonious a team can play together."
Beach volleyball next for Alyssa Valdez?
How about playing beach volleyball in the future?
"Okay. Fun fact," she says playfully, "the first time I went out of the country to represent Philippines was during the Youth Olympics in Singapore 20... I don't know the year (Laughs it was 2010!), I was so young back then!" (Laughs more).
"I played beach volleyball representing the country, and did that several times... So when I was in college I was also playing beach volleyball for our university, it's amazing and so satisfying to do.
"Our beach volleyball team here (In Vietnam), they're so good."
So is it an option after her indoor career?
"Definitely. I would really love to go back play beach volleyball, most especially when the beaches in the Philippines are that nice!
"So definitely, who wouldn't want to go around the Philippines and play beach volleyball with these amazing players like Bernadeth Pons and Jovelyn Gonzaga."
Gonzaga was captain of the 2015 SEA Games team and is now on the beach volleyball team, a path that Valdez could follow.
"Hopefully I can be teammates with her!" Alyssa says.
Alyssa Valdez: Inspiration
Alyssa is an inspiration to millions, but who inspires her?
"The one player that really inspires me and I really loved when we were in the Asian Games we played against China, against Zhu Ting. (Outside hitter and captain of the Chinese team, Rio Olympic gold medallist)
"I think she's very humble and she plays so well, that really makes me want to learn more and that's why I look up to Zhu Ting."
What Kiefer said to Alyssa
A passion that's more of an obsession for her sport is something Alyssa shares with boyfriend Kiefer Ravena.
He also represents the country on the national basketball team. Although he was not on the initial list to play in Hanoi, he got a late call to come.
"We were so surprised, at first he wasn't in the line-up," says Alyssa, "then at the last minute he's gonna go to Hanoi... the first thing he said to me was 'it's gonna be my sixth medal, hopefully you'll get your first.'
"And I said, ok... That's, you know, some healthy competition between two athletes!" She says, laughing.
Ravena has already won five basketball gold medals at previous Southeast Asian Games, and is aiming at a sixth as the Gilas Pilipinas focus on a 14th straight title.
Team Alyssa: The phenom's online fan army
At the net isn't the only place that Alyssa has reach. Valdez has an online following of around 10 million people but does not want to call herself famous.
"No, actually, I consider myself some someone that is so blessed to have this influence... and I would say I have a responsibility also now to be a role model to these kids.
"I'm just so happy that there was no social media at all when I was younger, and then we experienced the social media era so I get to experience both worlds, but you know, you have to think before you click right?
"It's your personal life, your private life, your career and people can just access everything, so we have to really be responsible on everything that we post on social media."
So how does she deal with fame?
"At the end of the day, you can only control what you can control, and you control what put out there, that's your power and your responsibility, whatever you post will reflect on you and everyone around you."
A solid support system with loving parents, three brothers, and Kiefer, allow her to see through the social media fame to the things that really matter, like family and volleyball.
Using her platform for good and "spreading good vibes"
"I'm just doing what I love and and just being me," she says, "my family is always in the background supporting me. That's why I think I am where I am at this stage, also because of them...
"They're really my main source of strength and my inspiration."
Using her influence to make the world a better place is important for her too.
"There are things I can do with my social media to promote positivity, like our Creamline team, it's spreading good vibes and spreading things that are very helpful and things that inspire and motivate other people.
"I also really want to help other players like me have that voice also and use that voice, use that platform, not be scared to use it for a better cause."
Alyssa and Kiefer: "Focusing on our careers and supporting each other"
With all this going on does Alyssa Valdez ever get any free time?
"I do have free time, when I have time, I do sleep. I do spend it with my family, with my dogs and my pets and with my friends.
"I'm lucky enough to have a good support system and they know how my schedule works and they know how to support me. And that's why it's important to have that close circle at the end of the day."
Between Big Brother, Brazil, training, tournaments, how often does she get to see Kiefer?
"We had one day to see each other in the Philippines in like, seven, six months.
"But, yeah, we're just really focusing on our careers and supporting each other, so hopefully after this, we can watch more games and really spend time with each other."
As they are both elite athletes, is there an understanding that makes it easier?
"Definitely, we do understand each other. And they think we started off as just friends and supporting each other, so I guess that's one thing that's an advantage for us that knowing that we're both athletes and we know our priorities also."