So the thing I love best about analyzing older pieces of Very Popular Media is that the sense of distance given by a series that has finished out and closed up often makes it a lot easier to analyze and discuss without distractions over where the series is or might go from here.
For example: When I criticize Ross for falling into, say, rape culture or stalker culture or bullying culture tropes, we don't have to worry about whether the writers are "getting better" or if they're "going somewhere" with all this in a clever double-secret-deconstruction-of-the-genre sense because we all already know where all this is going and that it just gets worse and worse. Which means we can talk about the problems inherent in the work without the distractions provided by a still-ongoing series.
I bring this up to note that for this particular DVD in the series, Ross is actually much better than the previous two DVDs (as well as many of the upcoming ones), mostly because his presence in the episodes has been dialed back quite a bit, rather than because the writers figured out he was being a creepy asshole all the time (as evidenced by the fact that he will go back to being a creepy asshole soon enough). I have an unconfirmed suspicion that this might be because we've hit the point where the writers decided to make the show about all the Friends and not just Ross and Rachel. But for whatever the reason, we've been granted a small reprieve!
An Annotated Index of Ross Geller: Disc3
Episode 113: The One With the Boobies
Synopsis: Chandler accidentally sees Rachel's breasts; Joey learns that his father is having an affair.
Analysis: Ross has almost no lines in this episode (I count 13 lines for him total, which is probably a record for the series), which means that he has very little time to be creepy at us. And actually, he manages to wildly surprise my very low expectations by not being creepy and controlling and upset and obsessive about Chandler seeing Rachel's breasts. Which, considering that Ross thinks he has dibs on Rachel, was actually pretty unexpectedly refreshing.
All Ross really does in response to this event is to joke that Rachel should get to see Chandler's "pee-pee" now so that things will be even. Given that this would make Chandler and Rachel more intimately aware of each others' bodies than Ross is with her, it kinda makes me wonder who was writing Ross for this episode and why they were immediately sent off to colonize Mars or whatever. Episode 113 wins a gold star from me for being the least creepy Ross episode so far.
Episode 114: The One With the Candy Hearts
Synopsis: Ross asks out his neighbor to Valentine's Day dinner where he runs into Carol and (briefly) Susan.
Analysis: Ack. This episode is kind of a tricky one because for a fraction of a second it does show Ross on the nicer side of the Nice Guy spectrum but while still displaying the same toxic problematic issues he has with controlling the women he feels he owns. Ross takes his date to a restaurant with tableside preparation, and so of course Carol and Susan show up not only at the same restaurant but at the same table. Ross continues to refuse to describe Susan and Carol's relationship properly, which (as Thomas Keyton has pointed out) is both disrespectful and othering of their relationship.
Ross: The blond woman is my ex-wife, and the woman touching her is her... close, personal friend.
Kristin: You mean they're lovers.
Ross: If you wanna put a label on it.
Susan is then called away for a work emergency, and Carol is left alone, so Ross invites her to come join them. To his semi-credit, he does recognize that this is an awkward situation for his date and does ask her consent rather than just waving Carol over. But then he and Carol get in the groove of conversation and look up some time later to realize that Kristin has quietly left the restaurant.
And I have mixed feelings about this. Because on the one hand, Ross really does not know Kristin well at all, so I'm marginally glad that he didn't choose her comfort over Carol's simply because he thinks he has a better chance of getting into Kristin's pants than in Carol's. (And yes that is an incredibly low bar for my expectations at this point.) But neither do I feel like the comfort of Carol and Kristin is the binary or zero-sum game that the show seems to want to present it as. Yes, Ross arguably has good reasons to comfort Carol on Valentine's Day, but he could do so without neglecting his date so thoroughly that he doesn't even realize she's gone. There's a middle ground there that he doesn't seem to attempt to meet; instead it feels like he prioritizes Carol over Kristin because he'd rather get into Carol's pants than Kristin's. (Which would mean he's not clearing my low bar after all, just basing his bad behavior on preference over expediency.)
Additionally, for all that the show wants to write this like Ross and Carol just fell into a talking groove and haven't seen each other in so long etc., their current estrangement is largely a matter of choice because Ross refuses to accept Carol's decision to leave him for Susan. He wouldn't invite Carol to Thanksgiving because he didn't want to see Susan; he is hinted at avoiding their apartment unless he expects Susan to be gone. Both of the women have given him a blank check to be involved with the baby (and therefore, to a certain extent, with them) to the extent he wants, and he doesn't have to be involved with them at all, but when the separation is something he's chosen (as opposed to being forced into it for whatever reason), then it rings hollow as a defense for neglecting his date: Oh, he just hasn't seen Carol for so long... because he's chosen not to see her for so long. Break out the tiny violins.
So it's marginally a nice, good thing that Ross wants to comfort Carol when she is sad. But then he immediately demonstrates assholery by first neglecting his date to the point of driving her off and then by plunging forward to try to convince Carol that she should leave Susan and just stop being a lesbian.
Ross: You know, here's a wacky thought. Um, what's say you and I give it another shot?
Ross: No no no, I know what you're gonna say, you're a lesbian. But what do you say we just put that aside for now you know? Let's just stick a pin in it, ok? Because, we're great together, you know. You can't deny it. Besides, I've got a ring at home that fits you. Uh..I've got,uh, lots of pictures with both of us in them. Okay? And-and, best of all...hey-hey you're carrying my baby. I mean, how perfect is that?
And, you know, there's a part of me that really does sympathize with this. Ross and Carol were married for several years, they've only been apart for a few months, and I know how easy it is to say to someone I miss you and I want you back. I do get that. But. But. But.
Ross isn't saying all this in a vacuum. He's saying this in a context where he has largely been nothing but hostile to Carol's choices and needs--he's been belittling and unaccepting of her sexual identity, and treated her decision to leave him as something he shouldn't have to put up with because he feels she had no right to leave in the first place. He's shared deeply personal things about her with their friends, been hostile to her lover at every turn, and been controlling of her body and their baby.
And in that context, this "offer"--for Carol to just stop being a lesbian and come back to him--is tainted by the controlling and hostile attitude he has maintained. And his confession of "love" isn't helped by his choice to railroad over Carol's objections and insist that she hear him out--an insistence which suggests that her objections are not important and/or shouldn't be voiced. And this is especially problematic in the context of telling someone that her sexual identity should change for you.
It's one thing to tell someone that you love them and would be open to trying again. It's another thing entirely to try to badger and argue them into it, while setting aside all their objections as trivial, or ridiculous, or not worth mentioning merely because you don't value their reasons. (Or merely because you've poured their reasons into your handy Validity Prism and an acceptable color didn't shake out the other end: Magic
So: Very small points to Ross for showing a glimmer of niceness in this episode, immediately revoked again when his niceness reverts to shallow self-interest and aggressive selfishness.
Episode 115: The One With the Stoned Guy
Synopsis: Chandler accepts a promotion; Joey teaches Ross how to "talk dirty" to his new (and never-mentioned-again) girlfriend. Monica auditions for position of head chef at a new restaurant, but the owner is stoned during the audition and unable to concentrate on her proposed menu.
Analysis: We've already noted that it seems like the writers are uncomfortable with Ross' almost-virgin status (by playing him up as vastly more experienced and passionate than Rachel), because here we start to see a stream of one-episode girlfriends who come and go from his life and his bed.
It seems like they could have split these up between Ross and Chandler if they wanted to play up the inexperienced angle, since after a few seasons of this it doesn't ring true that Ross is simultaneously unable to talk to women but also has a steady girlfriend every week. But splitting the Lady Of The Week with Chandler would presumably have messed with the series' conceit that Chandler seems gay whereas it is literally laughable that anyone would think for even a moment that Ross could be attracted to men. (Literally: When Chandler defensively asks the women if they ever thought Ross could be gay, they laugh like it's the most absurd thing they ever heard. So we're all on the same page with how the writers see Ross, masculinity, and gay men. And it's a bad page to be on.)
In this episode, the vastly experienced and uber-passionate Ross has difficulties complying when his new girlfriend asks him to "talk dirty" to her, and his panicked response ("Vulva!") (and, yes, I was disappointed that he didn't yelp "Burma!") brings the evening to a grinding halt. So it's off to the experienced and cosmopolitan Joey to ask for some training in the erotic art of talking dirty, and amusing hijinks ensue.
And, you know, mixed feels on this. On the one hand, it's a welcome relief that Ross doesn't shame his girlfriend for her request or try to convince her that she's having sex wrong. And from a Doylist perspective, I understand why he goes to his friends for help: the show is called, after all, Friends and is about their hilarious hijinks. But on the other hand, we're perpetuating the trend that (a) Ross shares intensely intimate secrets without consent from the people he's talking about (see also: giving Chandler and Joey a blow-by-blow description of his sex life with Carol) and (b) Ross doesn't talk openly and honestly with his girlfriends about their needs. The "training session" where Ross learns how to talk dirty properly could just as easily have happened with the person who, you know, is asking for it, and then he'd have a better chance of actually satisfying her. Instead, he rushes off to a Fellow Man to ask for training wheels and a practice session, because that's safer than asking a woman what she wants and how he can give it to her.
And at the end, Ross still gets it wrong because he's so focused on being The Best at something ("I was the James Michener of dirty talk.") that he misses the entire point--i.e., making him and his girlfriend happy--and ends up wearing them both out with a story so elaborate that they both fall asleep without having the sex that (presumably) his girlfriend was hoping to have.
So maybe this is one explanation why Ross' stream of girlfriends don't stick around more than one episode each.
Episode 116: The One With Two Parts (Part 1)
Episode 117: The One With Two Parts (Part 2)
Synopsis: Ross continues to be bothered by the fact that his monkey is one of the "things" in his life that doesn't love him; Ross also accompanies Carol and Susan to lamaze class, where he freaks out a bit when he realizes that there will be an actual child resulting from this pregnancy.
Meanwhile, Chandler becomes romantically involved with a woman he is supposed to be firing, while Rachel and Monica perpetuate insurance fraud when Rachel is injured and realizes she has no health insurance. Joey meanwhile starts dating Phoebe's twin sister Ursula.
Analysis: Lotta Ross in these two episodes, lotta ground to cover! Let's start with the lamaze classes. Ross shows up with Carol and Susan, and immediately takes control of the introductions, presumably because he's a Man and it would be an abandonment of his Man duties to let Carol talk. ("Hi, I'm Carol; this is my [girlfriend / lover / partner / fiancee / whatever-term-Carol-prefers] Susan and my ex-husband Ross." Easy-peasy.) Ross continues the trend of demeaning and invisibling Susan's relationship with Carol by insisting that the two women are 'just friends':
Ross: Hi, um, I’m err, (has to clear his throat) I’m Ross Geller, and err ah... (pats Carol’s bulge) ..that’s, that’s my boy in there, and uh, (points) this is Carol Willick, and this... is Susan Bunch. Susan is um Carol’s, just, com... (embarrassment finally overwhelms the poor fellow, who becomes incoherent until) ..who’s next?
Teacher: I’m sorry, I didn’t get... Susan is?
Ross: Susan is Carol’s, Carol’s, Carol’s, friend...
Carol: Life partner.
Ross: Like buddies.
Susan: Like lovers.
Ross: You know how close women can get.
I talked about this before, and hate to keep harping on it, but this is really hostile behavior on Ross' part. I'm sure the writers wanted this to come across as not-really-misogyny, not-really-homophobia, but instead just cutesy ooh, Ross hasn't accepted this yet framing, but that doesn't make it any less hostile because his intent and reasons don't really enter into it here. He's refusing to acknowledge Carol's sexuality, refusing to acknowledge Susan's place in her life, and by drawing these introductions out to confusing and convoluted lengths, he forces Susan and Carol to divulge more of their life to strangers in order to clarify Ross' hostile and panicky word salads.
This is deeply unfair to Carol and Susan, and center Ross' feelings about their relationship as the most important thing in both the show and in what strangers learn about them. Everyone in this class will come away barely remembering Susan's name, but registering that Carol is a lesbian and her ex-husband is super uncomfortable with that fact. That's going to necessarily make it harder for Carol and Susan to make friends, because Ross has decided that everyone should focus on him.
Later, when Carol is forced to miss a class, Susan offers to stay to get the information and Ross demands that he be there too (because, you know, anything Susan does he can do better!), and then expects that Susan will lie down and play 'the mommy' because he's the Man. ("Okay, I’m gonna play my sperm card one more time.") And of course it is unfair and hilaritragic when Ross loses the coin toss, ends up in the position of the woman, and is told to "imagine your vagina is opening like a flower". This is definitely the worst thing that could happen to a man, just so everyone knows!
At an even later class, after the scary Birthing Video (and it seems like they show the same video to the expectant moms as they show in high school to scare girls into chastity, which would appear to be an odd decision), Ross obliviously ignores Carol's panic in order to heft a toy-baby like a football and tell Susan to "go deep". (Because she's the Man in this lesbian relationship. Do we all get it now?) Carol meanwhile is panicking and saying that the baby is "just gonna have to stay in" and Susan comforts her by saying: "I know it’s frightening, but, big picture. The birth part is just one day, and when it’s over, we’re all gonna be parents for the rest of our lives."
And then, of course, the show cuts away to Ross worrying about being a father of a child and not just of a baby. And we don't see Susan and Carol again in this episode, nor in the second part of the episode, because they weren't the important ones in this arc. This arc isn't about Carol's fears over a pregnancy (which may well be dangerous to her) nor about Susan's fears over parenting (to a child she may have no legal right to see, which can be its own kind of scary), but instead all this lamaze class stuff has been a framing for the real point of the episode arc (which was opened in Part 1 with, and will close in Part 2 with, Ross' monkey as Surrogate Child) which is Ross' Man Pain at being a father.
The thing is, I think conflicted feels over becoming a father are something worth exploring. But when you use (and then ignore) the greater pain of two women over becoming mothers in order to setup the exploration of the Man Pain, then something has gone terribly wrong.
Anyway, Part 2 barrels forward with a Scary Dream about Ross using the baby as a football (maybe he shouldn't have been fooling around doing that very thing in lamaze class!), and with Ross talking to his father about what it feels like to be a dad (maybe someday Ross will notice that his father is an abusive one, but not today!), and finally culminates in Ross rushing the monkey to the people hospital after Marcel swallows some Scrabble tiles, whereupon Ross then yells at the nurse until his Manly Yelling summons the attention of a Man Doctor and the monkey is saved by Man Surgery. Men!!
All of which proves that Ross is a kickass father and has nothing to worry about. And also Marcel grabs his finger which means that he loves Ross now and recognizes that his dad is awesome, and that's one something down and one something to go on the list of somethings who don't appreciate Ross like they should.
There's a lot to unpack in these Carol arcs and Marcel arcs, but ultimately I'm disappointed by the decision to focus on the person who has the most privilege, the least risks, and the most entitled attitude. Carol is actually having the baby, and Susan will be there on a daily basis to raise it, yet we don't really deal with their fears as legitimate--they either don't have real fears (because they're women and their only fears are hormonal ones that will vanish when the baby is born) or they don't have valuable fears.
Similarly, Marcel is living in an environment where he is arguably not well-suited or well-cared for--Ross lets him run free without supervision and he swallows three Scrabble tiles before anyone notices. (Ross also apparently doesn't know how to find a local, nearby pet hospital and instead plans to just yell at people until they fix his monkey, without any consideration for the fact that people-doctors may not know how to operate safely on Marcel.) Presumably Marcel has bigger and more immediate needs than Ross' need to be loved by his 'things', but we don't really explore that any more than we explore the needs of Carol and Susan.
I suppose we should feel lucky that we explore Rachel's needs, to the extent that we do, later in the series. After all, she--like Carol and Marcel and baby Ben--is just another 'thing' for Ross to angst over when she doesn't love him correctly or sufficiently.
Episode 118: The One With All the Poker
Synopsis: The girls demand to participate in the guys' poker game; Rachel is interviewed for an ideal job but doesn't get the position.
Analysis: This one is one of my least favorite Friends episodes, possibly because it hits a little close to home. I grew up in a community where girls weren't taught card games, which meant that when I wanted to participate in them later in life (largely in order to be able to socialize with my peers), I was starting from a serious deficit. And I was acutely aware that my being "bad at poker" wasn't just seen as an individual quirk from lack of training or opportunity, but was rather being taken by others as a confirmation about my entire gender: my failure to be good at poker was a reflection on all women and not just myself.
This episode plays with those ideas without really meaningfully refuting them. The girls learn poker from Monica's "Aunt Iris" (a delightful character who I believe we never see again, more's the pity), but despite learning complex shuffling tricks (which is, admittedly, a cute scene) they continue to badly suck at poker despite being desperate to learn. This could be taken as realistic, since poker isn't learned in a day, but could just as easily be taken as a gender issue: they can't play well because they aren't masculine enough (unlike the tough-as-nails Aunt Iris).
And the girls aren't just bad at poker, they're laughably bad, starting with the assumption that they can "trade" cards with each other, because silly girls are all about the cooperation dontchaknow, and believing that they can ask the dealer for specific cards. They don't just not know how to play poker; they've apparently never even heard of it, for all that they want to treat it like a cooperative card-swap. Consider for a moment how this could even be possible. How many movies have a poker game in them at some point? (I could name a dozen off the top of my head.) How many books and shows and metaphors and songs? Somehow these women--educated, socially adept, sometimes even erudite, women--don't understand that in the majority of competitive games, swapping of pieces isn't allowed.
And so but anyway. Ross goes into his competitive mode and we now need to talk about that.
Monica and Ross are competitive. This is supposed to be because they are siblings and so this is a shared trait. But the writers never recognize that their traits are not occurring in a vacuum. Monica is competitive in a world where: her parents abused her rather than loving her; her parents openly preferred her brother to herself and frequently compared the two in ways that demonstrated that fact; she lived the majority of her life as a fat girl/woman in a world that punishes her for her body; she works in a profession which is highly patriarchal and resistant to the entrance and advancement of women; she exists in a society where she has to be as good or better than a man in order to be considered half as skilled.
Ross, in contrast, is competitive in a world where: his parents have always preferred him to his sister; he was thin, tall, and attractive in contrast to his sister (and frequently contrasted with his sister); he has cultivated friendships with men who are nerdier and less desirable-to-women than himself; he majored in a discipline which was highly receptive to his demographic; he has privilege beyond the dreams of many. The writers never ever seem to notice that Ross' competitiveness is fundamentally different from Monica's competitiveness because of the differences between their social stations, their upbringing, and their experiences.
Monica's competitiveness is a survival tactic in a world where literally everyone--her parents, her coworkers, random fat-hating strangers--wants to see her fail. Wants to make her fail. Ross's competitiveness is, by contrast, occurring in a world where almost everything is conspiring to make his life as pleasant as possible. Those differences matter. It's simply not enough to say "oh, well, they're siblings!" and ignore the fact that Ross' competitiveness is occurring from a place of privilege and is perpetuated upon people with less privilege. Like, for example, Rachel.
Let's go ahead and round up some of Ross' clever and amusing trash-talk as he mocks the girls for not being skilled in a game which they were socially-discouraged from learning. First we start with the guys teaching the girls (Ross gets flustered and upset pretty much right off the bat):
Ross: Excuse me, do any of you know how to play?
Rachel: But you could teach us.
[Scene: Monica and Rachel's, the guys are teaching the girls how to play poker.]
Chandler: (teaching) OK, so now we draw cards.
Monica: So I wouldn't need any, right? Cause I have a straight.
Rachel: Oh, good for you!
And, you know, we're already mocking the girls. Because obviously you wouldn't share what you have in a teaching session in order to learn how to respond in cases where you have a straight. THEN THE OTHER STUDENTS KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE. (*headdesk*) And obviously it's just so silly for the girls to congratulate Monica for both having a winning hand right out of the game and remembering what a straight is and how much it's worth in the grand ranking of winning poker hands. Pfft, stupid girls. Ross is definitely justified in losing his temper a few seconds after this teaching session.
Then, post-practice session, when the girls have done predictably poorly, Ross is the first one to bring up that the girls owe them money for the game. (Joey insists that they shouldn't have to pay. Joey, who is not related to Monica and not secretly-in-love with Rachel. Just so we're on the same page about how love works in this episode.)
Ross: The game, Rachel, the game. You owe us money for the game.
Monica insists that the girls do pay, because she's concerned that if they don't, the men won't be willing to play with them again and she wants another chance at learning the game. Ross takes this opportunity to lecture Rachel about how the game, for him, is about winning (definitely not about girly concepts like having a nice time and enjoying each others' company!) and how she shouldn't play with him if she doesn't want to lose her money:
Monica: And you know what? We want a rematch.
Ross: Well that's fine with me. Could use the money.
Rachel: (to Ross): Oh, you really are enjoying this aren't you?
Ross: Yea, well, yea.
Rachel: So basically, you get your ya-yas by taking money from all of your friends.
Ross: (pause)...Yeah. [...] Look, Rachel, this is poker. I play to win, alright? In order for me to win, other people have to lose. So if you're gonna play poker with me, don't expect me to be a 'nice guy,' OK? Cause once those cards are dealt... (claps hands three times)
Ross: I'm not a nice guy.
Later we get a better idea of what the stakes are in these games:
Ross: Well, that just leaves the big Green poker machine, who owes fifteen...
Rachel: Could you be any smugger?
Ross: Huh..let's see..um..say Rach I am opening up a new art gallery and I could sure use portraits of Lincoln and Hamilton. (in reference to their portraits on the bills)
On a third poker night, Ross mocks the girls from the get-go:
Ross: So, you gals wanna hand over your money now? That way, we don't have to go through the formality of actually playing. [...] Alright. (to Rachel): Your money's mine, Green.
Rachel: Your fly is open, Geller. (he checks it, and zips up)
And when Rachel starts to play well, Ross becomes actively angry with her:
Rachel: Uh, I will see you... and I'll raise you. What do you say... want to waste another buck?
Ross: No, not this time. (he folds) So... what'd you have?
Rachel: I'm not telling. (collects chips)
Ross: Come on, show them to me. (reaches for her cards, Rachel covers them up)
Ross: Show them to me!
Rachel: Get your hands out of there! No!
Ross: Let me see! Show them!
Chandler: Y'know, I've had dates like this.
Rachel: (deals new hand) Boy, you really can't stand to lose, can you? Your whole face is getting red... little veins popping out on your temple...
Phoebe: Plus that shirt doesn't really match those pants.
(Ross is visibly upset.)
And I want to unpack a few things here.
One: The girls are expected to pay to play catch-up here. I can understand the guys not wanting to teach poker, but the girls view these sessions as a way to become good enough at the game to be able to spend time with their friends. (You know, friends? The thing the show is named for?) And so when the guys do agree to teach them, they then expect the girls to pay to learn from them--and to pay to be taught in the worst, most mocking, most upsetting way possible.
Ross is attempting to apply his trash-talking repertoire here, but it comes off as cruel and hurtful because trash-talking only works in a setting of equals. We recognize that an adult taunting a child is cruel because there is an imbalance of experience there. So this isn't just "Ross being competitive" so much as it is "Ross being abusive". But we're supposed to excuse it as a quirky quirk because (a) that's just how poker is so if the girls don't like it they should stay in the kitchen and (b) that's just how Ross is and we're supposed to put up with him. So we're being told to ignore the actual context of this terrible teaching and abusive taunting because, in some wildly different context, it would be acceptable (or at least normalized).
Two: There's not just an imbalance of training here; there's also a huge imbalance of resources. Chandler has the best-paying job in the group. At this point in the series, Ross has the second-best-paying job. Joey is habitually short of cash, being that he's an out-of-work actor, but Chandler pays for all their eating-out meals and housewares, while Monica feeds Joey for any eating-in meals. Since Joey's expenses are largely covered by Chandler and Monica, and since he has the poker-playing skills to break even on these games, we can assume that he's not losing much (in total, over time) on these poker nights.
In contrast, Monica is a line chef who is the third-best paid member of the group and who almost single-handedly covers rent and food for herself and Rachel while paying to feed everyone else in the group for the privilege of being the hostess at their gatherings. Phoebe works days at a massage parlor and nights busking outside the coffee shop; it's also implied that she financially supports her grandmother (who lives with her). Rachel is a waitress at a coffee shop where people are less likely to tip (and are tipping on smaller bills) than they would be in a restaurant. Rachel is therefore plausibly currently one of the poorest (if not the poorest) members of the group.
If her wages are anything like mine were when I waitressed, she is probably making $5.15 an hour, unless she's being paid the $2.13 an hour that she'd get at a larger restaurant. She's probably getting $1-$3 dollars (tops!) per table at the coffee house, and the turnover rate on the tables seems very slow. People come in to savor a cup and read the newspaper, but that doesn't mean they compensate her adequately for the time they held the table. The counter folks who come in-and-out more quickly may not tip at all. I would guess an 8-hour shift could gross her maybe $60 (on a good day), some of which will be withheld for taxes.
The point I'm getting at here is that fifteen dollars to Ross Geller is very probably meaningless chump change. Fifteen dollars to Rachel Green is probably 2 hours of work on an 8-hour shift. She's not just paying to be taught--paying to be able to spend time with her friends--she's paying at a fundamentally different rate than Ross is paying. Just as Ross' competitiveness isn't the same as Monica's because the differences in their social circumstances, so too is Ross' desire to win the monies here not the same as Rachel's (presumed) desire to do the same because of the differences in their class standing. Ross has more privilege than Monica and more money than Rachel, yet he wants to be given more money and more competitive leeway because he feels he doesn't have enough.
Which brings me to three: Ross isn't just "competitive", he's actually That Guy you don't want to play with, period. You know, That Guy who is happy to push the rules on everyone else (like demanding that the girls pay up for their first-ever game) but who throws a hissy fit when the rules apply to him. Ross becomes angry when Rachel won't show her cards after he folds. For folks who aren't big poker players, that means Ross is becoming angry with Rachel for playing the game correctly. If he didn't pay to see the cards, he doesn't get to see the cards. He wants special rules for himself so that he can learn how to tell when/if Rachel is bluffing and when she's not. That's not how people who "play to win" play. And Ross would know that. But just because he "plays to win" doesn't mean that Rachel is allowed to. And if she tries to "play to win" and succeeds? Then he's angry with her, and it's supposed to be cute because he's so competitive.
At the end of the episode, Rachel goes into a funk at losing the ideal job that she was so sure she'd interviewed well for, and after a heady round of high-stakes, Ross announces that Rachel has won with a full house. The implication we're meant to take from this is that Ross had a winning hand, but didn't show it because this made Rachel happy and he'd rather lose than make her sad.
But this doesn't work, because the whole episode has been about the exact opposite. This is like the Deathbed Confession Problem where a character is an asshole for the entire movie before learning a Very Special Lesson in the last five minutes at which point we're supposed to forgive everything that has come before. Ross didn't value Rachel's happiness when he wouldn't teach her how to play with her friends. Ross didn't value Rachel's happiness when he mocked her for learning too slowly. Ross didn't value Rachel's happiness when he demanded that she pay for the privilege of Chandler's poor teaching and Ross' snide heckling. Ross didn't value Rachel's happiness when he was gloating over taking a huge chunk of her day's wages. Ross didn't value Rachel's happiness when she was starting to play well and was happy for herself.
Ross didn't value Rachel's happiness until, after days (if not weeks) of mocking her, humiliating her, gloating over her, browbeating her, and being angry with her, until at the final moment when faced with an event that probably would have tainted him forever in her eyes--him taking more money than she owned on a bet made after losing a job she wanted more than anything--he stepped back from the line at the last moment and let her have the win that she needed. He valued her happiness only when the alternative would probably ended his romantic hopes forever. Or, in other words, he valued her happiness only when it became entwined with his own happiness.
The writers don't seem to realize that the takeaway here for viewers like me isn't going to be that Ross is such a nice guy because he let Rachel win. (His love overcame his competitive nature!) Instead the takeaway is going to be that Ross only cares about Rachel when Rachel's needs intersect with his own--that he cares about her only because he cares about himself. The final scene becomes a strategic weighing of his own needs: does he value winning approximately one hundred dollars right now or is he willing to lose the money in order to keep open the possibility of a relationship with Rachel.
Rachel wins out, but not because her feelings are important--rather, because the possible relationship means more to him than the money that he had plenty of already.