You might say that Christine “Tacos” Blandino has spent her career building up to this moment.
“It’s just an awesome opportunity,” the West Warwick residents said of being invited to put her brick-building skills to the test in a nationally televised competition.
Joined by a friend of hers, Blandino will be featured in the upcoming season of the hit reality show “LEGO Masters,” hosted by actor Will Arnett and set to air on FOX next week.
“I mean seriously — adults playing with Legos,” she said Friday over Zoom, the shelves behind her lined with jumbo Lego pieces. “You can’t turn that down.”
Originally from New York, Blandino moved to the Ocean State as a teenager. After spending some time at the University of Rhode Island, she transferred to New England Institute of Technology to study architecture design technology.
Unlike many of her fellow “LEGO Masters” competitors, Blandino never actually played with Legos as a child. In fact, her first encounter with the interlocking building blocks didn’t happen until after college.
“Everything I designed in college was basically whimsical, child-like,” she said, recalling the work she did while at New England Tech.
Blandino ended up landing a job teaching engineering with Legos. And when the pandemic hit she founded her own program, "Powered by Tacos," using Legos to teach engineering to kids in kindergarten through grade 8.
Building with Legos has become a passion for Blandino; since being introduced to them through her work, she’s joined a Lego User Group, meeting regularly with like-minded Rhode Islanders for theme builds and other Lego-related activities.
Being selected to compete on season three of “LEGO Masters,” Blandino said, “felt like magic.”
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” she said. “We all have that little bit of hope, but once me and my teammate started talking we were like, ‘oh my gosh, this is going to work.’ But it was going to work before they even chose us, just because of how well we work together.”
Blandino was joined in the competition by her friend Michelle Contreras, the two pitted against 11 other pairs of Lego enthusiasts from across the country.
“Michelle — I cannot wait until you see her build,” Blandino said, adding that prior to the competition she and her partner had only ever spent time together virtually.
Contreras, who’s from Houston, Texas, went to school for industrial design. Blandino met her online, and as one of the only other Latina Lego builders that Blandino had ever met, she and Contreras hit it off immediately.
“Our community is really large,” Blandino said, “but we’re kind of like unicorns within the community, just because we’re the minority within the minority — there are not many Latin women in the community.”
A self-proclaimed “steminist,” Blandino said she and Contreras are both passionate about encouraging all women — but especially Hispanic women — to pursue careers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields.
Aside from their shared passion for STEM, Blandino said she and her teammate are similar in many other ways, as well.
“Our styles are kind of funky,” she said. “We’re not the type of people that will go out and buy pieces for specific builds — we build with whatever we have on hand.”
It’s that resourcefulness, Blandino added, that proved particularly useful during competition — while competing on “LEGO Masters” was a great experience, it was also pretty chaotic, she said.
“They just tell you, ‘here’s the theme — build,’” she said, recounting how hectic the challenges could be. “They tell you what the theme is, and you have to start planning right away.”
Weekly elimination challenges, judged by expert brickmasters Jamie Berard and Amy Corbett, tasked the teams with creating awe-inspiring structures — one episode in this season is NASA-themed; another features a Lego dog show. In the end, one team will be announced as the “LEGO Master,” awarded $100,000 and the ultimate Lego trophy.
In terms of strategy, Blandino said she and Contreras each focused on their individual concentrations — for Blandino, attention was put on structural integrity and ensuring each build was functional; Contreras focused on aesthetics and storytelling.
“Between the both of us, I think we always had an idea as to how we wanted to face each challenge,” Blandino said.
With the first episode of “LEGO Masters” set to air next Wednesday, Blandino is excited for viewers to see the creations she and her partner were able to come up with.
“It’s just incredible the stuff that we’re able to create with the amount of time that they give us,” she said. “It’s going to be pretty amazing.”
Season three of “LEGO Masters” premieres Sept. 21 at 9 p.m. on FOX, with new episodes airing every Wednesday.