Optimization of real-world black-box functions defined over purely categorical variables is an active area of research. In particular, optimization and design of biological sequences with specific functional or structural properties have a profound impact in medicine, materials science, and biotechnology. Standalone search algorithms, such as simulated annealing (SA) and Monte Carlo tree search (MCTS), are typically used for such optimization problems. In order to improve the performance and sample efficiency of such algorithms, we propose to use existing methods in conjunction with a surrogate model for the black-box evaluations over purely categorical variables. To this end, we present two different representations, a group-theoretic Fourier expansion and an abridged one-hot encoded Boolean Fourier expansion. To learn such representations, we consider two different settings to update our surrogate model. First, we utilize an adversarial online regression setting where Fourier characters of each representation are considered as experts and their respective coefficients are updated via an exponential weight update rule each time the black box is evaluated. Second, we consider a Bayesian setting where queries are selected via Thompson sampling and the posterior is updated via a sparse Bayesian regression model (over our proposed representation) with a regularized horseshoe prior. Numerical experiments over synthetic benchmarks as well as real-world RNA sequence optimization and design problems demonstrate the representational power of the proposed methods, which achieve competitive or superior performance compared to state-of-the-art counterparts, while improving the computation cost and/or sample efficiency, substantially.