In a challenging criticism-generating oral defense of a doctoral program, examiners evaluate the PhD dissertation so as to confirm its scholarly merit. The main purpose of this ethnographic study was identifying the examiners’ expectations of the viva which was achieved by using a content analytic approach for analyzing the disputation section of two applied linguistics doctoral defense sessions from two accredited Iranian universities in 2019. Despite the similar shortcomings in terms of innovation, development, sampling and treatment, raised by the examiners, one of the candidates passed with distinction while the other was suggested re-submission. This finding suggests that the outcome of a viva, in an EFL context, not only depends on adherence to the conventions of doctoral research but is also influenced by the strictness of the examiners, the candidates’ language proficiency, and negotiation skills in this confrontational communicative event. Findings provide evidence for factors, namely the examiners’ attributes, the doctoral candidate’s attributes, and the dissertation attributes that determine the success or failure of PhD candidates in displaying their claims of scholarship during their defense sessions.